While the flow of high-quality information is critical to the functioning of capital markets, many are coming to see the independent audits that vouch for that information as irrelevant, according to Public Company Accounting Oversight Board Chairman James Doty.

"Our markets rely on trust," Doty said in a keynote address at the American Institute of CPAs' 41st Annual National Conference on Current SEC and PCAOB Developments in mid-December. "Independent audits provide that trust, and thus bridge the gap between entrepreneurs who need capital and lenders and investors who can provide capital."

However, he noted that the public, which is always angry when fraud goes undetected, "has trouble discerning the difference between one audit and another."

Regarding the recent resurgence of consulting services, Doty said that it raised a number of questions regarding its possible affect on the audit function, including, "What will firm management do to meet the compensation and cultural challenges that destabilized Arthur Andersen?"

In response to a question about whether the board had found any specific evidence that consulting services had compromised audit quality, Doty said, "As a regulatory body, we are expected to look over the hill and see what's coming. ... We can't ignore the facts of 1999, 2000 and so on, and we can't say that since we have no current evidence of a problem, 'Don't ask.' We have to ask. It's our job."

PCAOB DEVELOPMENTS

"We've pressed forward on both near- and long-term initiatives, and taken a hard look at how we serve the capital markets for the investing public," Doty said.

Among those initiatives were:

  • Identifying the need for, and developing, changes in standards;
  • Re-examining the inspection process for faster and more informative inspections;
  • Bringing the remediation process into real-time; and,
  • Doing more outreach, particularly to audit committees.

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